Have you heard of T.J. Watt? He’s kind of a big deal. And that’s why he was given kind of a big deal this offseason, making him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, but perhaps even more significantly, forcing the Pittsburgh Steelers to break precedent by guaranteeing his year-two and year-three salaries.
And they did it, of course, because of games like Sundays. Not only was it a great game overall, it was timely, and it was significant. As you know, he took over once the game went into overtime, recording two sacks, including a strip sack. The Steelers recovered the fumble in field goal territory and proceeded to win the game soon after off of kicker Chris Boswell’s leg. But even he wasn’t sure he was going to get it that day. Cameron Heyward helped keep him focused.
“I love the fourth quarter and the overtime by T.J. All game, he was like, ‘man, I’m just not hitting home’”, he told reporters after the game, via transcript. “I told him it was going to come and just, keep staying after it. You’re going to be great. And when we needed it the most, he made his plays. What an emphatic play to end the game with a sack-strip fumble. We needed it, and he’s a hell of a player”.
He very much did stay after it, as you know. He is the first player in NFL history to record two sacks and a forced fumble during a single overtime period. But he also had three tackles for loss during the game, as well as three passes defensed, all at or behind the line of scrimmage.
It’s not just the numbers you put up, though. The context is important as well, and making the huge plays in the huge moments is what great players do. This is a role that is not new to Watt, as he has delivered these types of plays before, the kind that we have seen from James Harrison and Troy Polamalu.
After playing five games—he missed one due to injury—Watt is second in the NFL with seven sacks, only one behind the Cleveland Browns’ Myles Garrett, who earlier this season recorded 4.5 sacks in a single game. He is tied for fifth with seven tackles for loss, and is sixth with 12 quarterback hits. He led the league and all three categories last year, a very rare feat. He is the only player with at least four sacks and three passes defensed. And he is tied for the league lead with three forced fumbles.
Basically, he’s pretty good. But even he can get frustrated at times when the players aren’t breaking his way. That’s when it helps to have leaders like Heyward to keep everybody out there with a level head and ready to do some damage.